Small cars often are appliances and not much else. We get that feeling, but there’s more out there.
The 2018 Fiat 500 hints at more than just a bland penalty box to shuttle passengers to work, home, work, home in an endless cycle.
It has ambition that it realizes—and some that it doesn’t. It earns a 4.4 on our overall scale before we’ve added in fuel economy. That score is likely to rise when the feds come in with their figures, but not by much. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Review continues below
This year’s Fiat 500 received mild, “fluff and buff” changes on the exterior and a new standard 1.4-liter turbo-4 that’s actually old. It’s available in Pop, Lounge, and Abarth trim levels with a power-folding soft top “cabrio” version available at every stop.
The same basic design that made us smile when the 500 was new in 2012 has remained, with only a standard spoiler and a slightly tweaked front bumper to differentiate from last year’s version. Inside, a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster on most models headlined the changes.
The biggest step for the 500 happened under the hood. A 135-horsepower 1.4-liter turbo-4 replaced the old engine in most trim levels. With 33 percent more power, the new engine is welcome, but “new” requires qualification: It’s the same engine Fiat offered in the 500 in 2015 and 2016 with a “Fiat 500 Turbo” badge. It helps the 2018 Fiat 500 pass on the highway, but it stops short of a sporty model.
The Fiat 500 Abarth comes closer. It’s powered by a 160-hp 1.4-liter turbo-4 that breathes freely, and by that we mean “will wake up the neighborhood.” It’s raucous fun, but it’s also not for everyone. We’re mature enough to admit that.
In any configuration, the Fiat 500 is like celebrating Valentine’s Day—best kept for two adults, or someone is going home with hurt feelings.
Storage space is oddly shaped and scant, and the rear seats aren’t large enough for adults.
Base cars are reasonably equipped by small car standards. Each 500 comes complete with 16-inch wheels, power features, a rearview camera, and good looks, but the 5.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment lacks Android Auto or Apple CarPlay compatibility, which we think is a glaring omission for an inexpensive car aimed at younger buyers.
The EPA hasn’t yet tallied the 500’s fuel-economy scores, but Fiat guesses that the car will manage 28 mpg city, 33 highway, 30 combined with the manual transmission. That’s not particularly frugal among small-car competitors.